Crete or Naxos: Which Greek Island Should Be Your Next Stop?

Crete or Naxos

Deciding whether to visit Crete or Naxos during your next Greek adventure? That can be a tough task! Both gorgeous and big enough for long road trips in the mountains or by the sea, it can be really difficult to decide which one to visit.

In this guide, I will help you understand the differences between Naxos and Crete and I will also tell you the main reasons to visit them both!

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Crete or Naxos: Which One Should Be Your Next Escape to Greece?

crete or naxos

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Let’s start by discussing some essential details that you need to know before getting on the road bound for your next Greek vacation.

GREECE - NAXOS - HALKI - ALLEY (1)
Apeiranthos, Naxos.

Down here, I will discuss some basic facts that you should know before booking your plane (or ferry) ticket.

Hopefully, they will help you make up your mind and make the best decision to enjoy your vacation.

Crete or Naxos? Key Details

crete or naxos
Temple of Demeter, Naxos.

Which is bigger: Crete is the largest Greek island, measuring 275 km in length. Naxos, on the other hand, even if a big Cycladic island, is much smaller than Crete. Naxos is just 32 km long.

Prices: Both islands can be quite affordable when booking tickets, accommodation, and entertainment a few months before the trip.

Shopping Heraklion
Souvenirs from Crete.

Location: Crete is in the southern part of the Mediterranean, just south of the Cyclades. It has two international airports (in Heraklion and Chania) as well as two important ports in the same cities, receiving ferries from the port of Piraeus, in Athens. 

Naxos is a Cycladic island located 102 nautical miles from Athens.

Greece - Naxos - Chora
Inside Naxos’ Kastro.

The island has a small international airport, but many travelers prefer to fly to Athens and then catch one of the many ferries from Piraeus to Naxos. Here you can find all the necessary details you need to know to travel to Naxos.

Down below, I bring you some more important information about both islands to help you make a well-informed decision for yourself and your family.

Things to Know about Crete and Naxos

crete or naxos
Phaistos archaeological site, Crete.

When heading to more isolated areas, away from the main cities, Crete can be incredibly quiet… Crete is an island of contrasts with scenic gorges, numerous pretty villages, monasteries, and the amazing archaeological site of Knossos

Check out more things to know about Crete here.

Naxos is the largest and greenest of the Cycladic group of islands but is relatively unknown. The island offers a wonderful mixture of sandy beaches and archaeological ruins, farming land, and mountain villages.

Both islands are ideal for those who seek a relaxing holiday and don’t necessarily want to go clubbing at night.

Suggested Length of the Vacation

crete or naxos

Since Naxos is quite small if compared to Crete, it is easier to explore either on your own or by means of public transport. For that reason, this is a perfect island for a short vacation, between 3 to 5 days.

However, many visitors find the island’s tempo so relaxing that they are delighted to book a longer stay either in a rental home or in a comfortable Naxos hotel!

Best places to visit in Crete by car
Typical Cretan roads

On the other hand, as I have said many times in my Crete travel blog, our island is large. And there are many things to see and do.

So, it is best to allow yourself plenty of time to explore, one week being the minimum time needed, and two and even three weeks the preferred duration. 

Many visitors stay in one of the island’s beautiful resorts and book a tour or two to enjoy some of the island’s top attractions.

Moving Around in Crete and Naxos

mountains Naxos island
Up in the mountains on Naxos island.

The easiest way to get around both islands is to hire a car, but it is fun to hire a boat to make an excursion too. 

Crete has a good bus network however, the island’s huge dimensions make travel times too long sometimes.

Therefore, road trips are better enjoyed when you rent your own car to see the island

Booth to pay to enter Balos
Driving to Balos Beach, Crete.

On the other hand, buses in Naxos are cheap and plentiful and it is easy to travel from Naxos Town (known as Chora) to many other parts of the island which one could easily define as off-the-beaten-path.

>> Which car rental service is the best to choose? If you want to rent a car for your trip, consider Discover Cars, a worldwide car rental booking engine.

Beaches and Coastline

crete or naxos
Crete’s coast near Tholos Beach, Lasithi.

Crete has the longest coastline when it comes to Greek islands. It is varied and it features amazingly beautiful beaches, isolated cove, and pretty coastal villages. 

Crete has two of the most beautiful beaches in Greece, Balos, and Elafonisi but many other impressive shores, including Vai Beach, Preveli, and the beaches on the lonely Akrotiri Peninsula in the region of Chania.

Kids in the sea Naxos Greece
My kids in Plaka, Naxos.

Naxos beaches are nothing short of amazing either. The island features a gorgeous coastline with huge sandy beaches as well as numerous small (often hidden) coves fringed by the deep blue waters of the Aegean.

Among my favorite ones are Aliko, Plaka, and Agios Prokopios

Crete vs. Naxos: Towns and Villages

GREECE - NAXOS ISLAND - HALKI - SHOP
The gorgeous Halki village, in Naxos.

There are some lovely mountain villages to discover in Naxos including Koronos which is where the famous Naxos Arseniko cheese has been made for nearly a thousand years!

Closer to Naxos town, Halki village offers stunning photo opportunities, with its narrow paved alleyways filled with colorful bougainvillea and fragrant jasmine. 

Village in Naxos, Greece
A picturesque village in Naxos.

Apeiranthos is another pretty village with incredible museums and most houses made in white marble. And if you prefer fishing villages, there are also many to choose from.

Mountsouna, for instance, with its pretty harbor, is one of the many you could visit.

crete or naxos
Loutro, Crete.

Loutro on the island’s south coast is a pretty fishing village with a gorgeous pebbled beach, while just minutes away, stands the village of Chora Sfakion, where many of its residents still wear the traditional Cretan costume.

Other than the gorgeous mountain and fishing villages you will come across in Crete, there are also some unique old towns that you cannot miss on the island.

crete or naxos
Sunset over Rethymnon, Crete.

Chania is Crete’s most beautiful town, with an ancient Venetian harbor and amazing Turkish mansions.

Rethymnon, another charming historic town features narrow cobbled streets and houses with bright colors. This town is watched over by the Fortezza, its Venetian fortress. 

Crete or Naxos: Top Places to Visit

Let’s start with the island where I live, Crete. As you might already read in this blog, there are hundreds of stunning places to see, these are among the unmissable ones:

Knossos

crete or naxos

This world-famous archaeological site with its magnificent Minoan Palace was once the capital of Minoan Crete and is Europe’s oldest city.

It is a very popular site, probably the most visited place on the island, and there are dozens of interesting guided tours for you to learn everything about the place while you visit. You can read more about this archaeological site here.

This entrance ticket is valid to visit the archaeological site and the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion too.

Museums on the Island

crete or naxos
Disc of Phaistos, Archaeological Museum of Heraklion.

If museums are what you like, the island has many for you to visit, in each of the different regions.

One of the best museums on Crete is in the island’s capital, it’s the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion. This museum has the largest collection of Minoan artifacts and reveals the sophistication of the Minoan civilization. Read more about this museum here.

Stunning Gorges in Crete

Samaria Gorge - Gorges in Crete
Samaria.

Although everybody knows everything about the spectacular Samaria Gorge, a 13-kilometer-long gorge that reaches the southern coast of the island, Crete is home to countless gorges, as well as mountain paths and interesting hikes.

On Crete, some gorges are easy to pass, others a bit more complex, and some of them incredibly dangerous.

The hike takes about 5 hours (sometimes even more) and takes you from the center of the island to a small coastal bay in the village of Agia Roumeli, in western Crete. Read more about Crete’s Gorges here.

If you’re planning to hike Samaria, doing it with a group can be a great idea. Check out this affordable Samaria hike with a guide.

Chania Old Town

Chania . How many days in Crete

One of the most charming coastal towns in the Mediterranean, but also the place where I live…

Chania is home to an old Venetian town as well as a modern city. It is located in western Crete and it is also the capital of the region that boasts the most amazing beaches on the island as well as fantastic mountain trails.

Naxos

Among the many gems in the Naxos crown, these are my favorite places to see:

Naxos Town (Chora) 

White streets in the old town of Naxos.
White streets in the old town of Naxos.

Among the most picturesque traditional towns in the Aegean, Naxos capital town is distinctly Cycladic in its character.

The village features an imposing Venetian castle as well as whitewashed cube-shaped houses, museums, and an impressive number of medieval manors to admire too. 

Easy to visit in a day, Naxos’ main town is a fantastic place to explore on foot!

The Portara

Greece - Naxos - Portara
Naxos town and the Portara.

The most iconic symbol of Naxos, the Portara is a huge marble archway at the entrance of the island, not far from the commercial port.

This imposing archaeological ruin is all that remains of a temple that was probably dedicated to the Greek god Apollo.

You can discover the highlights of Naxos with this full-day bus tour.

Naxos Kastro

Kastro, Naxos, Cycladic islands. Greece
The impressive remains of the Kastro.

As I briefly mentioned when describing Naxos’ Chora, the castle or Kastro of Naxos is one of the best preserved fortified settlements in the Cyclades.

Known as the fortress of Sanoudo, the castle encloses the ancient Venetian Town of Naxos. The fortification dates back to the thirteenth century, and it is located above the island’s Chora. 

Among the different buildings inside the complex, the castle also houses a church, a monastery, and a prestigious school. Inside the castle, you can also visit Naxos Archaeological Museum.

Vallindras 

stairs, blue doors, flowers, PATIO NAXOS
The courtyard inside the distillery.

Located in the small mountain village of Halki, Vallindras Distillery is a family-run factory where, for ages, they have produced the island’s famous liqueur Kitron.

Alyko Beach

crete or naxos

You cannot miss checking out this beautiful sandy beach that is backed by sand dunes and features a unique cedar forest.

Sports on Both Islands

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Naxos island.

Both islands offer an array of water sports including snorkeling, scuba diving, water skiing, and stand-up paddle boarding (SUP). 

The two biggest water sports in Naxos are windsurfing and kitesurfing while Mikri Vigla and Laguna are the top beaches for these. 

Crete is also strong in water sports and other sea activities, but also in mountaineering, canyoning, and hiking.

water sports in Crete

For family fun, there are also several water parks in Crete – mainly situated along the island’s north coast, while only one is on the island of Naxos.

Crete or Naxos: Which is Best for Foodies?

crete or naxos
The legendary potatoes from Naxos.

Greek food is really tasty and remarkably healthy. Much of it is made with extra virgin olive oil while putting a strong emphasis is salads, vegetables, and pulses. 

The best way to try out Greek cuisine is to enjoy a mezé. 

Something similar to a tasting menu that features an array of different small dishes often including vegetables, fresh fish, and meat specialties.  

A mezé is not a fast meal, but more like a banquet to be enjoyed at a leisurely pace throughout the evening.

Delicious home-made food from Crete.
Delicious homemade food from Crete.

Crete’s diet is strongly based on seasonal greens and meat (mostly goat and sheep). One staple dish is dakos a seasonal summer dish made with a barley rusk dipped in olive oil, before being covered with a layer of chopped tomatoes, and capers, all topped with goat cheese.

On the other hand, many vegetables and fruit grow on Naxos. The island is particularly well known for its potatoes which are often served topped with grated feta or melted Graviera Naxou, the island’s most famous type of cheese. 

Check out this cooking class with a local family in Naxos for the most authentic gastronomic experience.

But Naxos makes a variety of many other kinds of cheese including arseniko. A popular island dish is kobob which are skewers – usually made of chicken or lamb, cooked over charcoal, and served with the island’s delicious potatoes. 

You can find great wineries and several craft breweries on both islands.

Naxos or Crete: Which is Best for Island Hopping? 

crete or naxos
The Port of Santorini is a must place to stop when island-hopping in Greece.

Island hopping by boat is a popular way to explore several islands in one holiday. Crete, for instance, is in the perfect location for those planning to island-hop to many Greek islands.

For example, a trip to Santorini or Naxos as it takes just a few hours by boat. From Crete, it is also possible to visit Paros and Milos islands in the Aegean. 

Islands to visit from Crete
Traveling the Greek islands by sea.

If you fancy island hopping from Naxos, as it lies in the middle of the Cyclades islands, Santorini, Paros, and Mykonos are all within easy reach. There are also boat trips available to the tiny islands of Iraklia, Schinoussa, and Donoussa.

As you can see, these are two beautiful Greek islands you can visit this summer but only one holiday this year!

Whichever island you don’t get to see this year can certainly be a must-visit destination for the next holidays… Which island are you visiting next? Crete or Naxos?

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More resources to enhance your Crete adventure

Start by checking out my guide to planning your trip to Crete, packed with helpful essential information. Explore the articles on prices in Crete, common mistakes to avoid, and insider secrets. You can also get one of the digital travel guides I’ve written about Crete. They are affordable and practical to check from your mobile.

When it’s time to plan, explore the best places to visit on Crete Island, discover my tours and activities, and be amazed at Crete’s incredible beaches. If you are exploring specific areas like Heraklion, Rethymnon, Lasithi, and Chania, I’ve got detailed guides to help you make the most of your time.

Suggested accommodation in Crete

No time to read all my accommodation guides? Check out these places to stay:

Still Not Sure Whether to Visit Crete or Naxos?
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About me:

Gabi Ancarola | The Tiny Book

Gabi Ancarola

I have lived in Chania, Crete, since 2016. As a local, I have an intimate knowledge of the island. I host culinary and concierge tours and experiences in Crete and write about the island for several travel media. During the last five years, I have helped many travelers plan the perfect holiday in Crete. I co-authored DK Eyewitness Top 10 Crete and had more glasses of frappe than any regular person could ever handle.

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